Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Ever since millennials entered the workforce, we've been redefining career goals.

We're the generation that bore the gig economy, social media influencers, and the side hustle. We prioritized flexible hours, self-care and personal satisfaction in the workplace. We believed our dream job was out there if we just kept working to find it . But then, something shifted.

Call it disillusionment or just getting older, but the new millennial career dream is not having a job at all. Blame burnout in the digital age, where work-life balance is nearly impossible; or blame companies like Google and Facebook, who once topped the list of ideal employers before wage gaps, election hacking, privacy infringements and other scandals tarnished their reputations.

Whatever the reason, for some, the dream job has been replaced by the dream of early retirement. Enter the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement—a rapidly growing collective of big-thinkers who are saving to retire by their 30s and early 40s.

Hard work pays offPractical Money Skills

FIRE sowed its seeds on Reddit forums and millennial money blogs—which preach the gospel of 70%, AKA saving 70% of your yearly income for a fixed amount of time. Attempting as much on an average salary involves a lot more than coupon cutting. Every penny saved—through blood, sweat, second jobs and serious downsizing—goes into income-earning investments like low-fee retirement accounts.

It may sound far-fetched, but for some 30-something savers, retirement is already a reality. In September, The New York Times profiled several individuals, formerly employed in tech, finance, creative, and recruiting fields, who have already called it quits on the working world.

While some FIRE folks have had the benefit of hearty six-figure salaries, others have managed to punch out their time cards indefinitely by maximizing more modest salaries. But fair warning: it isn't easy.

Members of the FIRE movement looking to retire ASAP work round the clock and pinch pennies to the extreme—we're talking no dinners out, no movies, no gym memberships, and no life until their retirement finances are in order.

So how much downsizing are we talking about? One couple, Scott and Taylor Rieckens—both in their 30s and earning a combined $160,000 prior to ditching their 9-to-5 jobs—moved their family from California to Oregon to scale back on rent, sales tax, and gas mileage. They also swapped one of their cars for a more cost-effective bicycle. But on the plus side, they no longer work day jobs and have more time to spend raising their child and developing pet projects.

The RieckensThe New York Times

"The whole retire early thing is unimportant to me. It's more about gaining control of your time," Scott, a former creative director, told the Times. "If you dive into the definition of retirement, what you're retiring from is mandatory labor. It's not necessarily about piña coladas on the beach."

Las Vegas residents Joe and Ali Olsen can attest to that. Both began as teachers in 2004, when they decided they wanted to work less and travel more. By taking on extra jobs—from teaching summer school to running fitness programs—they slowly but steadily increased their earnings by about 50% without increasing their spending habits.

Joe and Ali Olsen with their childBusiness Insider

"We kept driving the same cars... We also ate at home, a lot. Eating out was rare, and a treat," Joe told Business Insider in 2017.

The couple continued living on a $20,000-a-year household budget and saving around 75 percent of their combined $80,000 annual income until they accrued enough to buy a rental property. Then they bought 14 more.

"When we started acquiring rentals, friends and family would ask when we were going to move into one of these three-bedroom, 1,800 square feet places, rather than our tiny condo," Joe told Business Insider. "But we were happy where we were. We never felt like we were depriving ourselves, because simple pleasures were enough."

A search of the FIRE Reddit forum, which boasts around 430,000 subscribers, reveals that some of the biggest hardships are letting go of the small indulgences. One user bemoans saying goodbye to craft beer, another gave up bowling. One user misses pizza delivery the most, while a few gear-heads have traded in their prized wheels for used cars. But many agree that a life without Starbucks and gym memberships is worth the long-term independence.

While there's no precise formula for extremely early retirement, there are some hacks to get started, including setting up auto-recurring bank transfers that withdraws money at set times depending on your paychecks, so that portions are allotted to checking, savings and investments automatically.

"When it comes to investing, the most common investment strategy of FIRE folks is to max out traditional IRAs and 401(k)s and put the remainder of their money in low fee index funds," notes Vice's Shomari Wills, who covered the phenomenon back in June. "Compounding interest helps the money pile up faster."

Then there are the bargain-basement tricks that the Reddit community shares with each-other—from renting video games at the library, to coupon-ing, and maximizing credit card points and other hacks.

Every penny counts www.valpak.com

But for all the bargain-hunting brags, the journey to financial freedom can take its toll. "Anyone else tempted sometimes to 'give up?'" one FIRE Redditer asked, before describing another taxing day of work and hardcore savings.

While financial independence gurus like the blogger behind Mr. Money Moustache and author Vicki Robin have fueled the movement, it's not without its detractors.

"Individuals who retire early are choosing to stop their earned income, which is the greatest defense against life expenses," Hank Mulvihill, a Dallas-based senior wealth adviser warned Marketwatch readers. "This is a decision not to be taken lightly."

One issue with retiring so early is unexpected expenses— think surprise pregnancies or health issues. If emergency money is tied up in retirement funds, penalty fees for early withdrawals will set you back. The precarious state of the healthcare system also makes planning ahead a challenge.

Then there's the issue of putting your happiness on hold in the hopes of future financial freedom.

"Financial independence shouldn't come at the cost of your happiness as you work endlessly and never enjoy the fruits of your labor in fears of derailing your early retirement goals," writes Hank Coleman on Yahoo Finance.

Time to relax amp.businessinsider.com

Remember the Olsens? They have a different take. In 2015, just eleven years after entering the workforce, the couple had saved over $1 million, and decided to quit their teaching jobs in order to travel around the world. While they still oversee their many rental properties, they've gained the flexibility to pursue the dreams they never had time for before. They also keep a blog, Adventuring Along, where they chronicle their travels and offer financial and real estate coaching.

"Teaching was one of our lives," the pair shared on their blog. "We loved it, but we also love our new one of travel and kids. Financial independence gives us the ability to take the risks to explore these lives. Despite loving our jobs, we quit, and couldn't be happier."

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Quiet Quitting is the latest trend among Gen-Z TikTok that encourages setting boundaries at work

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Toni Morrison has an anecdote about her first ever job, which was cleaning some neighborhood woman’s house. The young Toni arrived home after work one day and expressed her troubles to her father. But he didn’t provide the sympathy she expected. Instead, he gave her something better — his advice:

“Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”

Years later, she wrote about this remarkable experience for the New Yorker and said, in hindsight, this is what she learned:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you

3. Your real life is with us, your family

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are

What Morrison so eloquently articulated was setting boundaries. I revisited this piece during the pandemic when working from home ramped up in earnest. Back when work was one of the few things that anchored my day.

Without a physical office, the pandemic shattered the work/life balance for many people. There was no more of that physical separation that Morrison talked about. There is no coming home from work physically. There is no real life to come back to — just a manufactured commute to your laptop in your makeshift home office.

But, par for the course, Gen Z are navigating this boundaryless era using TikTok. While internet gurus promote hustle culture and constant online availability since you’re not getting face time with your managers, there’s a trend in town — “quiet quitting.”


@zaidleppelin On quiet quitting #workreform ♬ original sound - ruby


The trend arose from the depths of the pandemic. Layoffs, salary cuts, and furloughs proved that their employers did not care about their hard-working employees.

The Washington Post dubs quiet quitting as a fresh trem for an old phenomenon: employee disengagement. In many cases, it’s a response to burnout. For much of Gen Z, it’s a way of establishing healthy boundaries in the office and resisting the pressure of the rat race. After all, why work yourself to the bone for a company that just proved it’s ready and willing to let you go?

Despite the term’s negative connotations, Quiet Quitting can provide an empowering shift in thinking for employees.

For far too long, employees have been indoctrinated with a slew of toxic workplace advice. Faced with these old misconceptions and lacking job security or clear paths for advancement, Gen Z is untethering their identities from work.

Quiet quitting — therefore — might be a bit of a misnomer. These employers aren’t completely disengaged. They’re certainly not launching Flight Club-esque sabotage attempts on their employers. NO. Contrary to media panic, Gen Z understands the value of a job — the fickle market they entered ensured that. But they also understand the value of life.

They’re doing what they’re being paid for. Nothing more, nothing less.

According to Chief, a private membership network focused on connecting and supporting women executive leaders, older generations should learn from this approach.

“Gen Z has already endured the largest seismic shifts to the career landscape than any previous generation, having started their careers in the middle of a pandemic that changed office culture forever and a gig economy that makes piecing together work more viable. They’re taking both those realities and therefore demanding more autonomy and flexibility than any other generation.”

Gen Z are less attached to job titles and statuses. They’re more concerned about their lives. Sure, this can lead to problematic outlooks on money and experiences — see the “I can earn my money back” TikTok trend. But it’s better than hustling for no reward. Besides, as some Gen Z-ers put it on TikTok, the office isn’t even a vibe.

“With the ability to work from anywhere and for more than just one place, Gen Z-ers are forging their own paths that don’t rely on old patterns set by previous generations and are redefining what “career success” looks like. Gen Z can take note, as more and more leaders are similarly pursuing multiple income streams of their own through the form of a portfolio career. The way in which work looks like and where it happens is evolving.”

With less single-minded focus on one job, some TikTok business gurus advocate shutting your laptops precisely at 5 pm. And then jump onto your side hustle. Do nails or lashes on the weekend. Become social media managers for your phone. Sell soap on Etsy (again … perhaps not in the Fight Club way).

But this valorization of side hustles is not about hustle culture, either. They say job security isn’t guaranteed. Learning new skills and develop an alternate income stream/s to keep you afloat. Just make sure you’re not left in the lurch. BTW inflation is here. So every little bit helps.

But where do you start? Watching TikToks can only get you so far. Try a course on LinkedIn Learning to sharpen up your skills and learn new ones that you can turn into a verifiable side hustle — or leverage in your job search if quiet quitting leads to … real quitting.

Learn on your own time with bite-sized videos or in-depth courses. Watch them after work, before you clock in, or on your lunch break. Then, after your courses are complete, you’ll have certificates prominently displayed on your profile that prove your skills.